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At 75, Paramount Still Building

August 23, 1987|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Paramount Pictures' big 75th anniversary bash was in July, but the studio that made such movie hits as "Top Gun," "Children of a Lesser God" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" hasn't hung up its dancing shoes yet.

It's still celebrating, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday to mark completion of the studio's first real estate project since 1947.

The project consists of a five-story, 55,000-square-foot office building, which will house, starting Monday, Paramount's motion picture marketing and distribution and television syndication sales and distribution departments, and a 602-car garage, which opened in June.

But the project, estimated by industry sources to cost $11.5 million, is just part of an overall sprucing up and modernizing that is going on to mark the 75th birthday of the 55-acre Hollywood studio at 5555 Melrose Ave.

Earl Lestz, president of Paramount's Studio Group, said during a private tour of the lot by golf cart, "You can't expect to stay in business tomorrow using methods of yesterday."

Paramount captured a 22% share of U. S. motion picture box office revenues in 1986, twice that of its closest competitor. It got off to another big start this year with "Beverly Hills Cop II" and "The Untouchables" finishing in the number one and two spots in ticket sales in June. So, Paramount aims to stay in business tomorrow.

To that end, Lestz and Christine Essel, vice president of planning and development, not only supervised construction of the new buildings and renovation of the old ones, but they also have been overseeing a program to redo all the electrical distribution systems--"so we can do the most up-to-date taping," Lestz said.

"We can do 14 TV shows at the same time as three or four feature films, and we have 34 new editing rooms on the second floor of a building that was used for storage. The rooms expanded our editing facilities by 20%."

About four years ago, when Lestz joined Paramount, "we sat here with 28 empty sound stages," he remembered, "and 90% of our production was done at other studios, where we'd rent stages." Paramount has 32 stages, and they have a 95% occupancy rate today, he added.

Through gutting and rehabbing, other buildings also are being better utilized. Such as a building that was a warehouse and now has offices for the production team of the TV program "Entertainment Tonight."

Unlike some studios, Paramount is fixing up and building primarily for its own use. Asked if the studio rents offices and stages to independent producers, Lestz said, "We are so busy with our own activities, we don't do a lot of that."

Child-Care Center

Deborah Rosen, vice president/corporate communications, said the idea behind renovating and building is not just to create better use of space "but also to create the best environment for talent on the lot, giving them the absolute best in technological support, as well as other facilities--like the hot dog/popcorn vendor, child-care center and gym."

The child-care center, one of the first to be opened by an employer in Southern California, was completed in remodeled space last October, and the refurbished gym, with new exercise equipment, is due to open later this month.

It's all part of the philosophy, Lestz said, of Frank Mancuso, Paramount's chairman and chief executive officer since 1984. Rosen called Mancuso "the force behind the tremendous pride that's being taken in the studio."

This pride is reflected in the many efforts being taken, besides refurbishing, to preserve the studio's past.

Film to Be Shown

Like the film put together by Academy Award-winning producer/director Chuck Workman and narrated by Bob Hope, showing clips from movies produced at Paramount even before it won the first Academy Award in 1929 for the silent film, "Wings." Workman's film will be shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, UCLA and the Tokyo, French and Venice film festivals.

Or the trophy case just outside the commissary, where the 1927 menu from Paramount's original commissary, Cafe Continental, was duplicated--in price and offerings--for employees during two days in July.

Essel laughed. "Seven of us ate for $11 plus tip." There was a half lobster for 75 cents, New York steak for $1.25, shrimp cocktail for 35 cents.

Essel likened construction of the trophy case to building a tiny home. "It had to have drainage, air conditioning and a tin roof," she said.

Studio Gate Redone

It houses several Oscars and other awards given for Paramount productions. Among the Oscars is the one given to Ray Milland for Best Actor in the 1945 film "Lost Weekend."

The trophy case was completed in time for the July festivities. So was restoration of the scrollwork on the original studio gates on Bronson Avenue. Fresh paint, in a three-color scheme, and new, bronze name plaques also were applied to 33 office buildings before the big July events.

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